‘are you envious because I am generous?’ (Matthew 20:15 NRSV)
The parable of the labourers in the vineyard is scandalous; it’s simply unfair. Those hired first and who worked all day long through the scorching heat received the same wages as those who started at the end of the day.
Surely those who had worked the longest deserved more than those who had hardly done anything at all?
If we look at this parable in that way we have missed the point. It is not about work; it’s about God’s outrageous grace.
First, grace seeks humanity. Again and again the owner, representing God, seeks and draws people to his vineyard. He:
‘went out early in the morning to hire labourers’ (v.1); ‘went out about nine o’clock’ (v.3); ‘he went out again about noon and about three o’clock’ (v.5); And about five o’clock he went out’ (v.6). God continually reaches out to us.
Second, grace is undeserved. Those brought into the vineyard were doing nothing:
‘he saw others standing idle’ (v.3); ‘he…found others standing around’ (v.6). There is nothing we can do to earn God’s acceptance and love; he freely draws humanity into his vineyard.
Third, grace is generous
(v.15). The first workers received what was promised, and the landowner was generous to those who came late. What he decided to give and to whom was in his gift:
‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?’ (v.15). Grace is not about what we deserve, but about God who is faithful and generous. He faithfully kept his promise to the first workers and gave generously to the last workers. God faithfully and generously gives grace to all.
Fourth, grace is stifled and stunted by a complaining, comparing and envious attitude. The workers who had started early in the morning
‘grumbled against the landowner’ (v.11), compared themselves with those who came later
(v.12) and were envious at his generosity
They had no reason to be upset since the landowner gave them what was agreed, yet they felt they were entitled to more since they had worked for it and earned it.
Here’s the point of the parable: grace is freely and generously given by God; it is not deserved, worked for or earnt. It is God’s free gift, and not just to a select few but for all people who are spiritually standing around idle and spiritually don’t know their right hand from their left
(c.f. Jonah 4:11).
It is God’s grace that seeks us out and saves us by bringing us into his vineyard, but then our response to his grace is to work for him in the vineyard. That work doesn’t earn us God’s love and acceptance, since that has already been freely given; rather we live for our God out of gratitude for his generosity and outrageous grace.
Father, thank you for your amazing grace, may we live a life of service to you in grateful response.
Have a good week working in the vineyard.